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Norwich - Newly appointed Three Rivers Community College President Mary Ellen Jukoski had no trouble finding her designated parking space upon arriving for her first day on campus Monday.
The college staff decorated the spot with "Welcome" balloons and then greeted her with a reception. The greetings continued as she toured staff offices and visited the veterans' study center. On Thursday, the staff hosted a carnival luncheon with the new president, with characteristic midway foods of sausage dogs, root beer floats and the like.
"There's a great deal of enthusiasm here that keeps greeting me," Jukoski said Thursday.
But Jukoski's first week as the successor to retired President Grace Jones hasn't been all balloons and parties. Jukoski has had a fast-paced week of shuffling between the Norwich campus and Hartford to discuss the college's affirmative action plans, future curriculum goals and staff professional development.
Her executive assistant, Meghan La Casse, has a long list of local business and community leaders Jukoski plans to contact to arrange meetings in the near future. These include the chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs and Norwich Mayor Deberey Hinchey.
Jukoski was named Three Rivers president May 30 by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. She was one of 90 initial candidates and two finalists. Jukoski retired June 30 as president of Mitchell College in New London - she served as dean of Mitchell from 1990 to 1995 and was appointed acting president on July 1, 1994, for a year before becoming president.
She said in her first four days at the Norwich campus, she has been impressed with both the college staff's dedication and enthusiasm and the important role Three Rivers plays in the region.
She has had to become a fast learner regarding college issues. In early June, Jukoski attended a Board of Regents college presidents' meeting with the leaders of 17 state universities and community colleges to review a plan called Transform 2020. The plan outlines several key initiatives to update college curriculum, improve student retention and graduation rates and improve economic development opportunities.
Jukoski said her professional experience, background in curriculum development and her leadership in transforming Mitchell from a two-year to a four-year college will help her implement the new state initiative.
She said it's critical that Three Rivers remain "relevant" in the community as an affordable college choice that offers a high quality education for careers that are in demand. The college boasts a strong relationship with Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford for nuclear career training. Nursing education also is very valuable, she said.
She plans to reach out to other local manufacturing and high-tech industries - possibly including burgeoning agricultural endeavors - to learn how Three Rivers can help train their future workforces. She wants to reach out to Electric Boat in Groton to see how the college can help meet the submarine maker's hiring needs.
Inside the campus walls, Jukoski has found an enthusiastic and dedicated staff. During the staff meeting this week, she discussed professional development and arranged to bring Michael Gargano, provost of the state university and community college system, to campus to discuss the Transform 2020 plan with faculty.
On Wednesday, Jukoski relied on Three Rivers' Equity and Diversity Director Greg Sousa, also an English teacher at the college, to present the college's yearly affirmative action plan to the state Commission on Human Rights in Hartford. Three Rivers was one of four state community colleges to present plans at that meeting.
The commission wants more information on the college's services for students with physical disabilities. "We need to get more information on that," Jukoski said.
In describing her role at Three Rivers, Jukoski said she is like a "symphony conductor" making sure all the college's diverse components function in harmony.
"It's a very gratifying position," she said. "It's amazing what can be accomplished with a committed, conscientious, long-serving staff. They really believe in the mission at Three Rivers, the ability to get a quality education - whether it be an 18-year-old student, or a mom going back to school to further her education or a first-generation college student."